By Casey S. Elliott
The work of faculty members at schools that make up the University System of Ohio is invaluable to the state's economic future. That was a key message shared Monday night by Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who spent about an hour in conversation during Faculty Senate's first meeting of the new academic year.
Fingerhut, whom Faculty Senate Chair Sergio Lopez-Permouth invited to attend, answered senators' questions about how their work dovetails with the University System of Ohio, which consists of 14 public universities and 23 community colleges. The state developed the USO last year to improve cooperation and coordination between institutions, enhance educational opportunities for Ohioans and ultimately improve the economy.
"No single institution can do everything," Fingerhut said. "But with all of them working together, it can be a driver of the state economy."
For example, he said, one USO goal is for each institution to identify its centers of excellence, which can attract more out-of-state and international students and help in-state students access top-notch instruction close to home.
Fingerhut said the idea behind developing such specializations is not to limit institutions to focus only in a few areas. Rather, the intent is to highlight the strong points of individual institutions that can attract students from outside the state and thus bolster the economy.
Faculty Senate member Thomas Flynn sought more information on what specifically faculty would be expected to do under the USO. Fingerhut said that thinking of universities as a system, instead of as separate entities, is vital.
"The universities of Ohio used to think separately," he said. "That type of zero-sum game has hurt us all."
For the USO to work, faculty and staff must share resources and work with those at other institutions. One way this can be accomplished is through articulation agreements that make it easier for students to transfer between schools. Also, operating on similar academic calendar systems helps students transfer credits between institutions, he said.
Faculty Senate member Joseph Slade asked Fingerhut his opinion about a recent New York Times article on patents and sought his opinion on whether the state should relax some of its regulations regarding patents.
Fingerhut said he believes there should be more interaction between businesses and universities regarding research, but that does not mean businesses should necessarily direct research activities.
"I do personally think we need to open up a little bit more with business research," he said. "I hear from businesses that they want to partner more with universities. We can find some method to take an earlier step to talk with businesses about what we are working on."
Faculty Senate members Glenn Matlack and Beth Quitslund asked how work that they do -- on topics that businesses have not traditionally expressed a research interest -- would be aided by additional communication with private enterprise. Matlack is in Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, and Quitslund is in the Department of English.
Fingerhut said the drive to increase communication between businesses and universities is not the USO's only research-related aim. He said he considers it his job to ensure that all types of research receive the financial backing and support they deserve.
"One of our jobs as a public system is to let people know what (faculty) are doing," he said. "I'm not telling each of you that you have to pursue topics that are of interest to the state. Every single thing we do has leveraging power in the economy."